On April 30, 2020, CMS announced a second round of sweeping changes designed to assist healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amongst other items, the directive includes the expansion of telehealth services to additional provider types as well as to the use of audio-only telehealth services.  The goal of the ruling is to give healthcare providers more flexibility in treating their patients while at the same time making it easier for Medicare patients to seek treatment while staying safely at home.

CMS Waives Restrictions on Provider Types Offering Telehealth Services

In a push to expand healthcare services to more Medicare patients, CMS announced it will wave current limitations on the types of providers that are approved to offer telehealth services. This expansion will include physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and other practitioners and will remain in effect for the duration of the pandemic. CMS has also removed the restriction on federally funded and rural clinics which can now provide telehealth services to their communities. These changes will allow more Medicare patients to safely receive the necessary care they need to keep their care plans on track.

CMS Expands the Use of Audio-Only Telehealth Services

After much scrutiny and feedback from the healthcare community, CMS has expanded the scope of audio-only telehealth services. Many Medicare patients do not have access to video enabled devices. This puts limitations on providers delivering care to this high-risk population. CMS is now waiving the video requirement for certain E&M visits. CMS has also broadened the types of services covered by telehealth to include behavioral health and patient education.

CMS Expands Reimbursement for Audio-Only Telehealth Visits

CMS is adjusting the reimbursement for audio-only telehealth services to the same rate as an office visit – increasing provider reimbursement significantly. Rates are retroactive to March 1, 2020. This will be particularly helpful to practices that are struggling with patient volume and revenue generation.

Lastly, CMS is making changes to the way it approves telehealth services to be covered by Medicare allowing for a faster adoption of additional services in the future.

Other Notable Changes

  • The expansion of COVID-19 diagnostic testing for Medicare patients. Specifically, a written practitioner’s order is no longer required for the COVID-19 test for Medicare payment purposes.
  • Providers have flexibility during the pandemic to increase the number of beds for COVID-19 patients while receiving a steady stream of Medicare payments.
  • There is an exception to certain requirements that allow for freestanding patient rehab facilities to accept patients from acute-care hospitals when they are experiencing higher volume than they can handle.
  • There is flexibility for payment for certain outpatient services (i.e. wound care, drug administration) that are delivered in temporary locations (i.e. parking lot tents, patients’ homes, converted hotels)

To view the full announcement, click here.